Labor Day has become a holiday for recreation, not a celebration of organized labor. Such a transformation is appropriate, since the workers now shoot up entertainment, diversion and consumption: it’s the new “opiate of the masses”. After all, who got rich on Oxycontin, and who got dead?
It’s no secret that todays Idaho doesn’t love unions. But if you’re one of the multitudes of working poor in this country, this state, who’s gonna stand up for your side, a political party? Don’t count on it. Historically, you’ve been betrayed by elephants and jackasses. No wonder our President is screaming “Law and Order”. It’s been the anti-union cry for over a hundred years.
Over 110 years ago, at murdered former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg’s funeral Idaho Senator William Borah decried “When in 1899 organized lawlessness challenged the power of Idaho, he upheld the dignity of the state, enforced its authority and restored LAW AND ORDER within its boundaries, for which he was assassinated in 1905.”
Just what had the young former governor done? He got elected at the age of 35 to the governorship with the support of labor unions. He was the first Democratic governor in this young state. Maybe the starving miners in North Idaho thought he was on their side and they got over confident. Indeed, some mine owners feared the governor would not support their oppression and raised wages. But the Bunker Hill silver bosses wouldn’t budge so the miners attacked the property of the owners, blowing up and burning down a mill at Wardner in the Silver Valley.
Steunenberg, as Borah extolled, declared martial law, restoring “law and order”. Federal troops occupied the valley. The miners lost, the mine owners won with the help of a duly elected governor.
It was no accident that the federal troops who rounded up the mainly Eastern European immigrant laborers were “buffalo soldiers”, blacks, negroes, a generation up from slavery. Oppression has so many cards to play.
Some argue the resentment this fostered embedded such a deep racism in the soul of North Idaho that Richard Butler, the Neo-Nazi White supremacist found the soil fertile for his 1970’s move to Hayden Lake in North Idaho. Race and class struggles are not taught as a big part of Idaho history, but it’s here.
Steunenberg’s betrayal of the miners ate away at the union bosses. In retribution they hired an experienced hit man. Harry Orchard planted a bomb at Steunenbergs garden gate and the former populist, Democratic young governor was killed. Orchard was caught, confessed, convicted and ratted out the union leaders. They were all acquitted. Read about “The Trial of the Century” in Big Trouble.
This Idaho story of the struggle between the wealthy mine owners and the corrupt union bosses in the late 19th and early 20th century may sound like distant, boring history to you as you ride your ATV or jet ski this Labor Day weekend. Grill the burgers, pop a beer, but please, for a moment consider.
We live at a time where wealth is about as concentrated as the Gilded Age of the 1890’s. We have elected a personality president who claims great wealth (we’ll never know) but appeals to the poor crackers. The elemental conflict of wealth, power, work and justice, is what our representative democracy is supposed to balance, “…to form a more perfect Union…”.
Indeed, the Preamble’s list of Constitutional aspirations includes “insure domestic Tranquility”, but if that sounds like Borah’s call for LAW AND ORDER, you need to think again. Law and order can become a knee on the neck for some. Justice is the first aspiration our Constitutional preamble calls on.
This “more perfect union” needs some work. It is only fitting that Labor Day is the lead-in to November elections. Be wary of betrayal. Politicians change stripes faster than chain gang escapees.